Issues – Minor Forest Produce
Agragamee has adopted an issue based approach to tribal development, attempting interventions to address problems and needs as identified by the tribal community. This has necessarily called for an in-depth dialogue with the community, challenging it to look at its own situation in a critical, analytical manner, identifying inner strengths and seeking alternatives, rather than accepting the status quo. It has also provided a learning experience for Agragamee, helping it to develop sensitivity towards the different facets of tribal life.
Minor Forest Produce
Do the forest dwellers have even a right to the leaves and grass from the forests? Not if the Forest Department can help it. Agragamee found that there was extensive exploitation of tribal people in the collection and selling of minor forest produce. This has lead to an increasing pressure on the forest resources, as the tribal people, deprived of land, and with scarce employment opportunities are forced to survive on the forest resources for major portions of the year. The major reasons behind this was the skewed policy of the Orissa Government, which sanctioned monopolistic leases over forest products to private parties, who then played havoc with the pricing, and movement of the forest products.
When the tribal communities Agragamee was working with identified the issue of minor forest produce, as one of their major areas for intervention, they came up with a stone wall of government indifference, and insensitivity. The existing MFP policy prevented the tribal communities from taking up even a small scale of enterprise to value add and sell their forest produce to get some better returns for their labour. Women who were the major collectors of MFP took up the issue, and demanded in a meeting with the Chief Minister in 1993, that the state reformulate a more just policy. Though, the Chief Minister agreed verbally, there was nothing on the ground. For three years, women struggled, purchasing MFP items, and hoarding it as a move towards non-cooperation with the State Government policies. Then finally, the state saw it fit to sanction a lease to one of the struggling women groups for processing and sale of MFP. However, the insensitive policy continued and all over the state, other tribals continued to be exploited on this account.
Agragamee took up the issue, and wrote to different Governemnt departments, as also drew attention of different voluntary organizations, and other concerned groups to the issue. A state wide outcry on the large scale exploitation and misappropriation in the area of minor forest produce put pressure on the Government. The monopoly holders were called to account. Finally, in April 2000, the state changed the MFP policy, and handed over the rights to Panchayats in the fifth Schedule Areas.